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California Voters To Decide Fate Of Proposed Madera Casino

Dec 2, 2013

An artist's rendering of a proposed Highway 99 casino proposed by the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians.
Credit North Fork Rancheria

An Indian tribe located near Yosemite has state and federal approvals to build a casino off of its reservation. But a referendum on the California ballot next year might kill the project. Katie Orr reports from Sacramento.

California Indian tribes are allowed to build casinos on federally recognized tribal lands. A new project slated for Madera is testing what “tribal lands” are. The state government recently approved a compact with the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians that would allow the tribe to build a casino along Highway 99, about 35 miles from its reservation. The federal government approves as well. The tribe maintains the site is part of its ancestral lands.

But a referendum slated for the 2014 ballot would stop the project. Cheryl Schmit is with Stand Up California, which is leading the referendum effort. The group has formed a coalition of organizations, including several other Indian tribes, opposed to the North Fork Casino.

“This compact will set a precedent that basically will allow, one person, the governor, to place casinos in urban and metropolitan areas of the state,” says Schmit.

The tribe’s Charles Banks-Altekruse says that’s a misrepresentation. Governor Jerry Brown did sign a compact with North Fork allowing the project to go forward. But final federal approval is still needed. And Banks-Altekruse says the tribe has been working with the federal government for over a decade to acquire the land.

“This is a very dangerous, anti-tribal sovereignty initiative. And we think that all tribes should take a look at this and respect the wishes and sovereignty of their fellow tribes,” says Banks-Altekruse.

The North Fork tribe says other tribes are just afraid of more competition. Opponents fear the project could start a race to get more casinos closer to population centers.